Falun Gong members came forward yesterday to bolster claims a powerful Chinese spy ring penetrates Canada, intimidating the Falun Gong community with threatening phone calls, personal warnings and a system of surveillance that frightens Canadian Chinese into refraining from visiting China or even calling home.

Ying Zhu, a marketer at a Chinese newspaper in Montreal and among five other Falun Gong members who came forward at a news conference at the Parliament buildings yesterday, said when she visited China earlier this year, border officials threatened her and detained her for 33 days. Officials went through her address book and forced her to name all contacts who practised Falun Gong, she said.

Now, Zhu said she is afraid to visit China and her family does not allow her to call home because the phone is being tapped. If her family makes contact with any Falun Gong members they risk losing their jobs, she said.

"I was scared to learn that I live under the surveillance of Chinese Communist spies," Zhu said.

Xueye Zhu, a post-doctoral student in civil engineering at Concordia University, said that in 2002, he received a threatening phone call from a mysterious woman who told him if he didn't stop practising Falun Gong, there would be complications with his Canadian citizenship.

Falun Gong is a spiritual movement mixing Taoism, Buddhism and traditional Chinese exercises. Its members, defended by Amnesty International, say they are persecuted because the Falun Gong ideology contradicts that of Communist China, where the movement was outlawed in 1999.

Lucy Zhou, a volunteer at the Faun Dafa Association, said about 30 Falun Gong members in Canada have told her they've received threatening phone calls. Zhou called on the government to use more serious action against spies, such as expelling them as persona non grata.

A network of more than 1,000 Chinese spies operates in Canada, harassing, intimidating and tapping the phone lines of the Falun Gong community, Hao Fengjun, a former officer with the Chinese Public Security Bureau, recently told a Toronto newspaper.

A 2002 report from Freedom House, a U.S.-based non-profit organization, brought to light internal documents from the Chinese government that show China's Falun Gong intelligence-gathering efforts. Freedom House says the documents have been analyzed for authenticity.

Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan said yesterday the Canadian Security Intelligence Service is fully aware of any activities and is "doing everything necessary."

Prime Minister Paul Martin brought up the issue of foreign spies in Canada when he visited with Chinese leaders in Beijing in January, Martin said earlier this week.